Air Chief Marshal Sir Lewis Hodges

Bomber pilot, escaped prisoner of war and SOE commander with a distinguished peacetime career


Lewis Macdonald Hodges, airforce officer: born Richmond, Surrey 1 March 1918; DFC 1942, bar 1943; DSO 1944, bar 1945; CBE 1958; Assistant Commandant, RAF College, Cranwell 1959-61; AO i/c Admin, Middle East Command, Aden 1961-63; CB 1963, KCB 1968; Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Ops) 1965-68; AOC-in-C, Air Support Command 1968-70; Air Member for Personnel, Ministry of Defence 1970-73; Deputy C-in-C Allied Forces Central Europe 1973-76; ADC to the Queen 1973-76; Chairman, RAF Benevolent Fund Education Committee 1979-86; President, RAF Escaping Society 1979-2000; President, Royal Air Forces Association 1981-84; married 1950 Elisabeth Blackett (two sons); died 4 January 2007.

With the death of Sir Lewis Hodges the Royal Air Force loses not only one of its finest senior officers but a member of that band of intrepid pilots who undertook cloak-and-dagger operations during the Second World War.

Born in Richmond, Surrey, in 1918 and educated at St Paul's School and Cranwell, "Bob" Hodges flew Hampden bombers with 76 and 49 Squadrons from December 1938 until September 1940, when his aircraft crashed in France returning from a raid on Stettin. He was captured by the gendarmerie after reaching the Pyrenees, was moved to Marseilles, tried to get away by ship, was imprisoned and placed on parole pending trial, escaped via Perpignan to Spain, was again imprisoned, and eventually reached home in June 1941.

Six months after rejoining 49 Squadron, he was selected for operations in support of the Special Operations Executive and joined 161 Squadron at Tempsford as a flight commander, dropping agents and supplies from Halifax bombers. Later, as the squadron CO, he also flew Hudsons and Lysanders on pick-up missions; a passenger on one of these was the future President of France Vincent Auriol, who in 1950 arranged for his appointment to the Légion d'honneur.

In 1944 Hodges, now holding two DFCs and the DSO in recognition of his gallantry, efficiency and personal example, attended the Staff College and served on Sir Arthur Harris's operations staff at Bomber Command before returning to the front line, this time in the Far East. Here he took over 357 Squadron based near Calcutta, flying Liberators on clandestine operations over Japanese occupied territories, and winning a bar to his DSO.

At the end of his action-packed war - aged only 27 - his experience was put to good use for three years on the Directing Staff, first at Haifa and then at the Joint Services Staff College. There followed four years in the Air Ministry as Staff Officer to the Deputy Chief of Air Staff and in the Directorate of Plans before he returned to flying in 1952.

After a year at the RAF Flying College he returned to Bomber Command, where he was chosen to command the RAF team of three Canberras entered for the London to New Zealand Air Race in October 1953. He himself flew via Shaibah, Negombo and Perth, where he landed well in the lead - only to be delayed by an engine fault. The race was won by Flight Lieutenant Roland Burton, a member of his team.

For the next five years he served with the V-bomber force, first as Chief Instructor at the newly established Operational Training Unit at Gaydon, where the crews who would man the force were learning their new role on the Vickers Valiant. Then, in 1956, he took command of one of the RAF's largest stations, Marham, whose Canberra squadrons were being reequipped with the Valiant, and by the time he departed in 1959 he had made a major contribution to the build-up of the V-Force.

There followed two enjoyable years as Assistant Commandant at Cranwell, his Alma Mater, and his first post-war tour overseas when he went to Headquarters British Forces Aden Peninsula as Air Officer Administration. He was there during the successful emergency operation to reinforce Kuwait in face of Iraqi threats in 1961.

At the end of 1963 he took over as Air Executive to the Nuclear Deputy at Shape, a post which required all his staff and diplomatic skills, and two years later returned to the Air Ministry as Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Operations). He was in for a busy time, with the closing stages of Indonesian confrontation and the complexities of the withdrawal from Aden requiring almost constant attention.

Then in 1968 he was appointed Commander-in Chief of Air Support Command, whose transport aircraft were still operating worldwide but preparing for the cutbacks that would ensue from the withdrawal from East of Suez. It was other consequences of that withdrawal that dominated his work in his next post, that of Air Member for Personnel which he took over in November 1970. Here he had to handle many of the complexities of the RAF's reorganisation and reductions in manpower, and it may have been a relief when in 1973 he moved back to Nato for his final appointment, that of Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Allied Air Forces Central Europe.

Bob Hodges retired in 1976 but remained a busy man. Some of his time was spent as a director of Pilkington Brothers and a governor of Bupa, but he remained committed to many of his RAF connections, not least of them the RAF Benevolent Fund and its educational work. He presided for several years over the RAF Association: he also served as President of the RAF Club, whose fortunes he himself had done much to revive in the 1960s.

But perhaps nothing meant more to him than the many ties that stemmed from his wartime activities. He became the father figure in the RAF Escaping Society and the Tempsford Reunions, and was on never ending call to represent the RAF at memorial events both at home and abroad, particularly in France.

Not surprisingly, he showed great interest in the RAF Historical Society and was a constant source of guidance and inspiration to all who were keen to preserve the record of the RAF's achievements. I and countless others will remember a kind and considerate man whom it was a privilege to know.

Henry Probert

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Content and PR

£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Day In a Page

Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell